Former Italy and AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini’s professional tennis career is likely to stop at one match after a debut he described as “like writing a poem after studying years of maths”.
The 49-year-old, who only took up tennis about six years ago, acquitted himself well but he and his partner, Stefano Landonio, were well beaten, 6-1, 6-1 by Poland’s Tomasz Bednarek and Dutchman David Pel in the first round of the Aspria Tennis Cup in Milan on Monday.
“It was like writing a poem after studying years of maths,” said Maldini, whose appearance secured more attention than is customary for a Challenger Tour event.
“We tried to enjoy the moment, also because I didn’t expect I’d be able to experience something like this at the age of 49. Ironically, on the very first point of the match I pulled a muscle.
“It was a unique and unrepeatable experience, I have lived it as a game and there will be no other experience like this. We could have played better on a few points, but no problem. It could have ended 6-0 6-3, we lost 6-1 6-1 and that’s fine.”
Maldini and Landonio, who once held a world ranking of 975, were totally outplayed by 35-year-old Bednarek, a former top 50 player in doubles, and the 25-year-old Pel, who is currently ranked just outside the top 200.
“I want it to be clear, it’s only for fun, because I’m a member of this club and Stefano works here,” explained Maldini, one of Italy’s greatest ever footballers, a man who at left back was one of the best defenders the world has ever seen.
“I had to take it easy, especially at my age. You can be a little bit nervous, because you are doing something that is not yours. But since you’ve been a good player in another sport, you know what to expect.
“(But) those who know professional sport know very well that it’s impossible to invent yourself as a professional from one day to the next. This is something I know very well.”
Could Maldini be tempted to play again, if not at full professional level, perhaps on the ITF’s over-50 circuit?
“I would say no, especially because I don’t train like an ex-professional,” he said.
“I play once a week, I come from another sport, I have physical problems with my knees and a series of limitations due to the inevitable wear-and-tear caused by football. Also, I don’t have much time available.”
Maldini and Landonio earned their place in the draw after winning a “rodeo” tournament at the host venue, the club where the Italian plays once a week with his coach, Landonio, usually on the faster, indoor courts.
“(That’s) where I can show my best qualities,” he said. “On carpet there’s no time to think, it’s my favourite surface.
“I like to play aggressive. Red clay forces me to play long rallies...but in tennis, honestly, I have little patience.”